Lewis Hamilton warmed up for his bid to wrestle the Formula One title from Mercedes rival Nico Rosberg with the fastest time in the first two practice sessions Friday at the season-ending Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.
The defending champion, who is seeking a third-straight title and fourth overall, overcame a minor scare when he lost control of the rear of his car in the first session, then dealt with some balance issues on his wheels in the second. He was .079 seconds quicker than Rosberg in the second practice after beating him by.374 seconds in the first.
It will be a welcome boost for Hamilton, who trails Rosberg by 12 points heading into Sunday's race. Even if Hamilton wins it, Rosberg only needs to finish third to be crowned champion for the first time.
Both have won nice races in a topsy-turvy season that started with Rosberg taking complete control after winning the first four races while Hamilton struggled with engine troubles. The title race then went in Hamilton's favour only for Rosberg to seize the initiative back.
"We underestimate the pressure these guys are under," Mercedes head of motorsport Toto Wolff said. "Sometimes you have to allow the drivers to express their feelings and emotions. You don't want to streamline them too much."
Meanwhile, Sebastian Vettel was third best in the evening session – encouragingly only .269 behind Hamilton – but he had to go back to the Ferrari garage, saying over race radio that he suspected gearbox failure. However, because the engine was being used for practice, he will not incur a penalty for a gearbox change.